Smile Politely

Matt Rush saga highlights flaws in criminal justice system

I have been watching the lengthy and depressing saga involving Champaign police officer Matthew Rush. I am appalled, sad, and frustrated at the lack of accountability that he and the bureaucratic systems which support him have been taking. Since 2011, Rush has received at least four complaints against him by members of our community and they have gone summarily under-punished.

This is representative of a pattern. He has kicked, punched, swore, maligned, and degraded. But it is not only a pattern of systemic abuse perpetrated by an individual held accountable for the safety in a community, but a pattern of deflection and acceptance surrounding this behavior. He is now, on record, legally validated. His actions, in the terms of his existence as a Police Officer, are justified and permissible with nothing as more complex than a decision by another fallible human being. What exactly can we do as a living thinking feeling community when faced with a flagrant injustice such as this?

I’m frustrated. I think we all are. I think we are all pretty sick and tired. Not of the police, but of a structure of policing that allows the proliferation of criminality within a structure that inherently mutes and abdicates responsibility.

I’m sick, frustrated, and paranoid. I’m sick of being paranoid. What do I do with that? I am systemically terrified of those meant to protect me. And this is coming from my own position of extreme privilege. I wanted to write a rant about all of this, to do good work in telling everyone that “hey look, this is bad. This makes me feel this way.” This kind of work is essential, but it is already being done by people far more influential and articulate than I am. Our flawed system is exposed as a bottom line, it has to be. I honestly doubt how much my small voice can add to our knowledge of this fact.

A favorite author of mine, Eve Sedgwick, did good work with thinking about this kind of paranoia. She looked at the way that critically-minded and socially-conscious individuals look at and consider a screwed up system, one in which a single court’s decision can serve to perpetuate a pattern of violence against unarmed civilians. These are systems of social and bureaucratic thought that are rigid, have become closed loops, and can seem insurmountable to those who would like to break them down or at least reorganize them. Systemic change is possible, absolutely, but not without years of hard work and sacrifice. What do we do in the meantime?

Sedgwick suggests taking an exposed system of thought and instead of denigrating or rejecting its recognition, working to create new and productive avenues of thinking along-side of it. We are not moving on from our rants about injustice, but getting our brains off their asses to come up with productive solutions This means not only working towards demanding justice from a broken police system and for the victims of Rush, but in the meantime doing other things as well. It is about a community of thousands changing and shaping our mindsets about the whole matter.

My main point in writing this is to offer solidarity and an avenue for hope to those who, like me, are frustrated with inaction and the lack of accountability and decency in those individuals with the power. I think Matt Rush is disgusting, and I think his exoneration is more so. But I want to urge the members of my community to not be bogged down by anger but to keep fighting, using the legal system against itself, and doing things which work towards tangible social change. This means speaking up, educating, and taking action.

(Photo of Matt Rush by the Champaign Police Department; Photo of police car by Flickr user Wampa-One)

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